Melton Town hauled themselves back in the United Counties League promotion race with a hard-fought win over Thrapston Town on Saturday.
With Anstey Nomads suffering only a second defeat of the season at Bugbrooke, and leaders Lutterworth dropping two points in a draw at Irchester, Melton closed the gap to the top two to five points with their fourth straight win.
All champions must find a way to win ugly at times, and while this was never an ugly game, it was a tough match against a team fighting at the bottom of the table.
It started so well as Melton again came out of the blocks at a lightning speed and scored within the first minute, a feat they have achieved six times this season.
The ball was picked up by Jordan Lever on the right and after a one-two, Josh Hill composed himself to fire a shot past Thrapston goalkeeper Innes for another dramatic start.
Thrapston showed right from kick-off that they hadn’t come to play a bit part and went close when Agbenu dummied Tom Rigby and found himself clean on goal, but his shot whizzed across the goalline.
The wind was causing havoc and nearly cost the visitors another goal when Bates misjudged a cross and flicked the ball onto Lever, but his effort from distance missed the post by inches.
Thrapston controlled much of the first part of the half, but came up against a resolute defence, with Wilson and Fray determined not to be breached.
Then against the run of play, Hill got behind Thrapston’s defence, outran Reed and slotted past the oncoming Innes, only to see Brown clear off the line.
A Tom Manship free-kick caused havoc in the defence and Kadeem Price played in Michael Reeve inside the six-yard box, but his stabbed shot was again cleared off the line by Bates.
The resulting corner was then headed off the line by Brown.
Melton completely dominated the later stages of the half, hardly letting the opposition get hold of the ball as they hemmed them back in their own half, but they failed to make any real chances in front of goal.
The second half became a scrappy affair with both teams failing to make any clear-cut chances until the 70th minute when Innes was caught in no-man’s-land. Lever attempted a long-range effort with the goal wide open, but Brown recovered in time to clear away from danger.
Thrapston were caught short at the back moments later when Hill broke clear and floated in a cross, but Lever’s header across goal shaved the far post.
A late corner found Lever whose goalbound header was deflected over, and the next corner had the same result as Wilson attacked the ball, but saw his header go agonisingly wide.
Kyle Reek was brought on as a late substitute and had an immediate effect.
Receiving the ball from Lever, his deft touch found Lever one-on-one with the keeper, and he slipped the ball past Innes and the post.
In the final minute Reek beat Reed for pace and cut in from the byline and tried his luck with a curling short which went inches wide.
A well-deserved but hard-fought win as Town again failed to convert more of their chances, but with their rivals slipping up, the bigger picture suddenly looks rosier for Manship and Stevenson’s side.
Melton next host Huntingdon on Saturday looking for their fifth win on the bounce (kick-off 3pm).
Town: Peet, Gilchrist, Rigby, Hibbitt, Wilson, Leon Fray, Hill, Manship, Reeve, Price (Reek), Lever.